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An expression I overuse in the classroom is “I know we’re not finished, but time is finished.” The sentiment makes me impulsive, landing me in trouble sometimes. As I write this, I know Alice is soon headed back north, and so am I. She’ll take the salt water route, and I’ll take the water that becomes increasingly fresh. My time here’s finished for now, and in case you don’t know, Winooski is a river that flows into Lake Champlain. I’ve got some work to do up there, so this is my last post for 2006. See end of this post if you’ve not used up all your 2006 creativity.



Here’s the sign that points the way for me towards Champlain. Just north of Burlington, the Winooski flows from the east into Lake Champlain. I’m driving, but I could paddle the Winooski as far as Montpelier, where the North Branch enters, which I could follow for a mile, leave the water, and take the the right fork in the picture below. It seems Robert Frost wrote a poem about this, about roads diverging, about choices and their making all the difference. My road leads up a steep hill to a place beside a quarry. Hmmm. wonder if Alice has ever carried crushed granite from that pit.


But up here there’s stuff to do, tools to use, structures to make, vehicles to move me to the next waypoint . . . metaphorically speaking this time.

Happy New Year 2007. Blog returns in a few weeks; right now. . .

I’m up the Winooski tomorrow, and . . . rather than resolutions, how about convolutions to coin some new words:

2007 “blogger kisses and hugs” could become “blisses and blugs!!!”

Send some of your own convolutions?

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

Sometimes the most heavily trafficked waterways are the least known to landfolk. Consider Newtown Creek in 2007. Tis true also of this waterway between New York and New Jersey, Kill Van Kull aka KVK. When I first moved here a half decade ago, I thought to kayak here, a plan I quickly discarded after seeing how heavily it’s trafficked. Until I found this article on Staten Island name origins, I wondered who the Van Kull is; check out “Arthur Kill” as well as “Het Kill van het Cull.” As a Dutch speaker and linguist, I find this Anglicization explanation finally satisfactory.

The tug below enters the west end of KVK about a mile on the Bayonne side of the Goethals Bridge; astern is visible the waterfront of Elizabeth, NJ. Just to the right of of the twin steeples of St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the shadowy tower of the Union County Courthouse; off the bow is the Singer plant that I blogged about a few days ago.
If Stapleton Service were to turn to port, it would enter Newark Bay, the busiest portion of the port of greater New York.


Of course, Newark Bay, which handles all this traffic, can only do so because of its shoreside transportation links–rail and road–as well as major dredging, which doesn’t even keep up with the increasing vessel size, or more accurately, depth. Check this link (scroll all the way through) for a Maersk container ship with three times the cargo capacity of the Maersk vessel above, three times, 300%!!

Notice this shovel barge is “spudded” in place; the spud is the pillar or foot just in front of the bucket of the crane. But dredging means mixing what has lain inert in the mud with estuary flow, and what has lain in the mud might be nasty.


Given the traffic, KVK is home base for at least 100 tugs, according to an August 2005 article by Wendell Jamieson in the Times. Moran is one of the bigger fleets.


Here a fearless helmsman “stays the course” and checks room to starboard while a huge bulk carrier, flanked by a Moran tug, passes to port.

The east end of KVK is marked by Robbins Reef Light, shown below.


So ends the KVK at its east end, but it’s all sixth borough, and the sixth borough . . . well, it connects to all the watery parts of the globe.

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

One of the year’s disappointments was seeing the figurehead on Eagle, a ship two friends had crossed the Atlantic in. The figurehead is shown below.eagle.jpg
I don’t mean to be critical, and I won’t say what it reminds me of, but for a vessel so lavished with funding, the bird lover and the wood carver in me found that gilt body . . . disappointing. Not that I’d go for the fiberglass figure on this Las Vegas pirate ship.


Of course if I were a perishing, superstitious medieval sailor, I know which “klaboutermannikin” I’d rather follow to the afterlife. But I digress. Eagle, built by Blohm and Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany in 1936, is the younger sibling by 25 years of Peking. And check out Peking‘s stem, initials “P” and “L” for the P line, a fleet of nitrate clippers owned by Ferdinand Laeisz; now quiet at the dock after an early life shuttling between Hamburg and Valparaiso and other Chilean ports, less than three months for the 7000 miles each way. Imagine this modest figurehead plunging through the tempest around Cape Horn.


Here’s a sampling of figureheads. But my favorite figurehead of the year is shown below, the defiant grey goose standing on Pioneer’s bowsprit while the wooden jibboom was removed for refinishing; by the way, would you believe me if I said Homeland Security ( aka USCG Campbell WMEC 909) backed off seconds later out of respect for the goose? wacki.jpg

You don’t suppose the crew of this cutter had been interested in taking the goose as a figurehead, do you?

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

Tugs moves barges of fuel, dredged rock, garbage, recycling paper, cranes, bulkhead construction materials, and more. What do you suppose is in the boxes on this barge that is marked with red flags and moving north on the Hudson?


Or what’s in the boxes on the barge attached to the small tug Mame Faye? Why are workmen pulling plastic over these boxes? Can you see the raindrops on the water? By the way, this picture was taken near the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk north of Albany last September at the Tug Roundup.
The rain stopped, the sun went down, horns and whistles on more than two dozen tugs blasted into the night, plastic wrap was removed by someone with a flashlight, the first box opened, and then there was an explosion and light,


and more delightful light as the show went on for what seemed hours; any lull was responded to by more horns and whistles. A stranger stopping at a local gas station while passing through would have wondered about the racket in the tiny town of Waterford, might have made life-altering vows.


Fireworks reflected on the water: this reminds me of the excitement of unwrapping gifts, of the lights in the eyes of children as they open boxes and presents. Such marvels arrive in boxes delivered on ships and barges. How about a whole new mythology about how boxes get delivered all over the world tonight? Cheers.


All photos by Will Van Dorp.

At lunch today some friends dredged up a memory I want to write about. It may explain “tugster” and this blog. Earlier I disclosed that my parents, as immigrants, arrived in this country by ship from the Netherlands. As Dutch Calvinists whose adolescence coincided with Nazi occupation, not only could they not identify with North American commercialism, but they proudly abstained from it. Christmas eve and morning were to be spent in church not matter what days of the week they fell on. There was some gift giving but that happened on December 5, “sinterklaas dag,” and the gifts then might be a new pair of socks and some candy.

My parents were and still are dairy farmers way upstate, not far from Lake Ontario. A cattle dealer who came to the farm at least monthly was Ralph, who was also an immigrant. Ralph came from Dusseldorf, a German city on the Rhine just 30 miles from Arnhem, the Dutch city on the Rhine where my mother grew up. The war motivated my parents to leave the Netherlands, but in a much more powerful way, the same war motivated Ralph to leave Germany. He was Jewish; he left just before all of his family was arrested and sent to that place from which almost no one returned. You know that story.

My father and Ralph talked often and of many things. Like best of friends, they would get mad at each other, but they always made up. One day, they must have talked about Christmas, and Ralph left the farm mad. He returned the next day with a big box. In the box were Christmas presents; it turns out Ralph was very angry when he learned that my parents didn’t believe in giving us kids gifts.

So when I opened my Christmas present, my first Christmas present ever at the age of seven, my gift from my father’s Jewish friend, it was not socks, gloves, underwear, or a chocolate bar. My gift was a plastic boat model of Robert Fulton‘s Clermont. In all my life, I can say this was my best ever gift.

Merry Christmas, Ralph. And Happy Hannakuh, Kwanzaa, Eid al Adhaa, New Year….. and thanks for the boat. Here are some pictures for you.





All photos by Will Van Dorp.

One what? A tattoo, an unusual piercing, an implant? a “tres bon ami” up the St. Croix River? About the “ami,” well . . . as I post this, she’s up in Canadian now for the fourth time since Thanksgiving, so . . . who knows who she’s got up there? Maybe we could be talking about different Alices. The one I’m talking about has an orange thing that’s on rails ready to leave sternwise in the case she takes too long offloading at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.


It’s called a covered lifeboat. When you’re out of sight of land in frightenly heavy seas in midwinter and the forecast just keeps getting worse, it’s a thing of utilitarian beauty and an amulet you can crawl inside of. Particularly mounted as Alice‘s, it strikes me as an object for recreation like a streamlined roller coaster car or a saltflats racer. Below is another type that doesn’t evoke nearly the same fancy.


Above is a closeup of the lifeboat of Atlantic Action, taking on containers in Red Hook.

A little farther south along the Buttermilk Channel in Red Hook is this view of the multiple lifeboats on Crown Princess, by the way the passenger vessel that made the unintended “tack” last July. Atlantic Action is off the stern.
Wilmington has one, but what’s your estimate of the distance to the water? I’d say at least 40 feet here. I need to trust that the davits will release correctly.

Pioneer has a rudimentary one, and crew does safety drills periodically, even in these cold April waters.

Actually, I have different lifeboats for various aspects of my life. I just wouldn’t feel safe otherwise. Do you have one? Oh, about Canadian waters, I’m thinking to head up that way soon myself.

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

A reader recently sent this picture of John B. Caddell. It’s steaming under the Bayonne Bridge, which, if you didn’t recognize it, is the classic bridge that graces the top of my blog page. Richard, thanks. Happy solstice! Carrying the equivalent of at least 30 large tanker trucks, coastal tankers like John B.  lessen highway congestion. A well-maintained old ship is a thing of beauty. caddel.jpg
Even though it’s not been cold yet, it is winter, and this vessel could be carrying home heating fuel, like a larger sister ship, 72 years old, that ran aground a month ago.

For me, the best thing about winter solstice is that I get to rest for a while and because the days in the north are now starting to get longer again, and we’re halfway back to summer. The best thing about summer solstice day in New York is the Mermaid Festival. The mural below caged by chainlink fence does not even begin to capture the wonder of that day. By the way, if you’ve never gone or if you’ve heard that it’s tacky… just go in 2007; summer solstice, like its winter sibling, comes around only once a year, an opportunity not to be missed. I’m planning to march there in 2007, so email me if you want to join the crew. Coney Island, thanks!


Come summer, all the beautiful sails will be back in the harbor haze, like Lettie G. Howard. Help me here. Elizabeth, thanks for this photo and the next.



That’s Pioneer eastbound with a yawl? to starboard and Adirondack westbound. Now count the sails on Pioneer. There’s one more than you usually see, the sixth one, the parallelogram-shaped one on the foremast. Name it?

It’s called a fisherman. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d say it takes a minimum of eight crew to tack it, as it needs to be lowered and re-raised with each tack. The picture above–thanks, Annette– shows how a crew tries to cooperate in raising the fisherman.

Only 182 days left til summer solstice! Tonight, I’m lighting every candle in the house and planning the parade!

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

My mother clearly recalls two sights of the harbor that April morning in 1949 when her ship steamed into New York: the Statue of Liberty and the “big clock,” as she calls it. Little did she know that almost 60 years later the big clock would still be there, carrying the same logo as the toothpaste on her bathroom sink.



This clock has been roughly in the same location since 1924 although most everything around it has changed. Most people enter the country today by air, and airports are places of intense branding. The clock has stuck so firmly in my mother’s memory, possibly, because the port is quite pristine in this respect. This is one way in which the perspective from the water–any water and not just the sixth borough–differs than that by land.



This warehouse just south of the new passenger terminal in Red Hook is more mural and only slightly advertising. It’s much more artful than a billboard. I’d be grateful for someone’s explanation for this mural.
More than half the sugar consumed in the United States was once produced in this Williamsburg plant , a branded building now idle awaiting transformation on the Brooklyn waterfront.



The logo on this massive manufacturing plant in Elizabeth, New Jersey once made sense in a time of deliveries by water. When it opened in 1873 this Singer plant was hailed as the largest factory in the world producing a single product: sewing machines. This was a business of superlatives, like this skyscraper that has since disappeared. During both World Wars, like many factories, the Elizabeth plant was repurposed to manufacture weapons. Any guess what?  Answer is found in the “weapons” link.  I’ll come back to the Elizabeth waterfront in the next post.

Any waterside logos your favorites?

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

I admire versatility. In some settings it’s called being a chameleon. Check out this vessel below. How old is it? What use did it first have? The color scheme you may have seen before: of course, it’s the New York blue and yellow you see on state trucks and police cars. Why are these colors on this sweet boat?

Here prior to the Labor Day Hudson River tug race, Urger jockeys into position. Let’s get some closer up views first. This series of knots below, sometimes called bow pudding, is what has attracted me to tugs all my life. The pudding buffers contact between Urger and another boat, a dock, or an unforgiving canal wall. On modern tugs this is rubber, either repurposed old tires or made-to-purpose extruded rubber “bumpers.” On pleasure boats it’s called fenders.





On Urger it’s all natural fiber, a good way to recycle old line.

While you’re considering your answers to the questions above, one more shot: Urger riding through whitecaps generated by the tug race.



Oh, the age? Would you believe 105 years afloat? And although it’s currently flagship of the New York canal system, it was originally built to fish on Lake Michigan. Henry J. Dornbos was its original name, “thornbush” in Dutch. A versatile boat that seen a century of change and has gone from pulling up fish to pushing stuff around into position to navigating the state as itinerant educator: now that’s a career path that should be adopted more widely.

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

The “f” could of course be flying, floating, fabulous… those “f” words just go on. I won’t mention the unmentionable flotsam sometimes referred to as fish of various provenance. Then, there are logs and wooden beams with hardware bobbing just below the surface that could evicerate a “go fast” fiberglass boat jetting across the harbor.

More fanciful, the new Pynchon novel has as one set of characters the crew of an airship. I like to think that in the gondola of this airship, a fixture above the harbor in summer, the elusive Thomas P was researching the experiences of his Chums of Chance. If my lens were more powerful, I would have a photo of the legend at work.


I like to think the esteemed Mr. Pynchon would have seen the image below and imagined an iceberg floating past Ellis Island.

Or he might–if anyone–could have figured a way to weave an outbound iceberg into a novel. Long ago, I was working in Kuwait and just home, feverish in the midsummer heat (120 degrees), looked out into the Gulf and saw something much like this a few miles offshore. Unable for quite a few seconds to explain this whiteness, I just decided it was an iceberg in the Gulf. Five minutes later, it was still an iceberg. “Fantastic, I thought, “It’s a 120 degrees and there’s an iceberg out there.” Fifteen minutes later, I saw a fire fighting tug shutting down its pumps.

Only in New York, the end of the rainbow in the confluence of the Hudson and the East River. What fabled treasures lie on the estuary bed some 50 feet down?

All photos by Will Van Dorp.

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December 2006